Canadian politicians should embrace the radicalism of compassion

BY PHIL JENKINS (Ottawa) - "There used to be an annual wine-out and shmooze fest on Parliament Hill in Ottawa called Pen and Politics. Local authors and professional politicians, one of each, were invited to grace large round tables otherwise populated by groups from other sectors of society – finance, high-tech, real-estate and such. (One time, I was on a table of bankers. When one of them asked me to sign a book I had published, I added the epigram, ‘It is a greater crime to own a bank than to rob one, Bertolt Brecht,’ which he enjoyed.)
Another year, I was seated next to the leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada. During our conversation, I lightly suggested that she change the name of the party, the ‘New’ now being redundant, to the Compassionate Party of Canada. Then during an election, when anyone said they wouldn’t vote for them, she could say, “So, you are against compassion as a basis for governing?” I was serious, but we both knew it was a whimsical notion.

Prior to that evening I had evolved the one maxim that I hope will make it into a book of Canadian quotations, under Politics; “It is the duty of governments to administer compassion and govern greed, not the other way round.” The fact that successive Canadian governments as far back as I have voted, beginning with the 31stelection in 1979, have all for the most part done it the other way round, has not dented my hope that Ottawa as a city and Canada as a country will evolve towards a political ideology based on the golden rule. Which is what I was really talking about with the NDP leader.

Karen Armstrong, author of Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and the originator in 2008 of the Charter for Compassion, considers the golden rule as good a basis for a nation state and the cities within as any. I agree. In 2010, Seattle became the first city in the world to sign on to the charter. At last count sixty-four communities have done so, and Ottawa is listed on the Charter website (charterforcompassion.org) of communities moving towards doing so.

The Dalai Lama who was in Ottawa twenty-five years ago on September 30th, 1990 to unveil the Human Rights monument on Elgin Street, a short walk from Parliament, wrote a small book on compassion. In it he says that, “Compassion is the radicalism of our time.” Wise man, that Dalai Lama. It was possible, at the time that he was in Ottawa, to hope that something radical might be about to happen in the world; Moscovian totalitarianism was eroding, the first buds of the Arab Spring were appearing. Perhaps the ancient pendulum was swinging away from human wrongs towards human rights.

But since then fiscal crisis management, consumption boosterism, corporate subsidy, militarism, Big Brothering, fear mongering, Partying and maintaining a choke hold on power have overwhelmed the administration of compassion as the business of government, here in Canada, in North America and globally. Greed, the vice that breaks the golden rule, is ascendant. All the more reason, then, to embrace the radicalism of compassion. To let the golden rule shine."

Phil Jenkins is an Ottawa-based journalist.

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